iNews

Let’s start at the top, with what happens when you first open the application. The way iNews works is that each user has a specific login and a server that they connect to. I am not well-versed in how server systems work, but in the case of a viewer-only application, I suggest a separate server that mobile devices would connect to (housed locally) and that would not be able to affect changes globally. In the ideal situation, the devices would connect to the same server using their iNews user names, and be able to affect changes normally.
A typical iNews login screen on a Windows desktop.Past the login screen, you are greeted with the two options: Script mode or Production mode. No matter what the selection, you are taken to a folder tree where you can choose the specific lineup you are working in. To those unaware, iNews is used by my entire organization, and so the tree breaks down program by program, and even within those programs, there are separate lineups day by day. So the folder tree would enable which lineup to load up, and then show you it in whatever mode you decide. I’ll introduce both separately and the purpose behind each, and some examples of how they would look and behave.Script ModeA typical iNews rundown on a Windows desktop.When script mode is chosen, the lineup you select will appear in a list, similar to the way you see it on any iNews screen. Perhaps, for the sake of a touch input, the rows can be wider. Unlike the image below, every column will not be visible. In fact, in Script Mode, only that which is necessary to the written story will be seen: Slug, WTR (writer), APP (approval), Format, Copy, Aud/Vid, Total. At the top of the application, instead of all those little buttons in the desktop interface, there will be the following buttons, always visible when a lineup is opened: Open Queue, Mode Change, Manual Refresh, Settings, Stickies and Log Out.


An example of the six button options in the iNews app.Open Queue, naturally, will take you back to the folder tree, to switch between lineups. Mode Change will let you switch the current lineup between script and production modes. Manual Refresh will do just that, it will instantly refresh the lineup and all changes, with a progress bar somewhere on screen. Note: Every application will automatically refresh by default at some interval. The Log Out button will take you back to the user login screen.Settings, in script mode will be different than in production mode. Here, you can adjusts things like auto-refresh interval time, font characteristics (style, size, etc.), highlighting colour changes, column reordering and magnification. You can also adjust whether selecting a story will bring it up in half-screen mode or full-screen mode.Stickies is something that I am still contemplating. Undoubtedly, it is one of the most essential tools in iNews. If I may diverge for a brief moment on this topic, I’d like to address the importance of it. Within a newsroom, communication is key when working on a lineup. Many producers and writers I know spend their time affixed to their iNews screens while corroborating and collaborating with others using Stickies. Put simply, it’s a chat system. And put simply, it’s too simple.

The current Stickies interface on a Windows desktop.
As it stands, Stickies are like talking to someone via telegram. It’s limited (why? gods know) to a certain number of characters. You can only talk to one person at a time, and only if you know their iNews ID, which can be tricky. While you can search a database of names that are logged in and signed on, it would be nicer if you could find a person by a group they belong to (i.e program they work on, lineup they are writing for) or a group you yourself put together (i.e. favourites, writers, producers, web team).

Stickies needs to be updated to the previous generation of chat clients. This is for the desktop application, not the mobile application. I think I’ll reach to an example company not many reach to: RIM. They realized that people were buying up Blackberrys to talk to each other more than all the secure corporate stuff they built their house on. It was smart to notice that. People are still hooked to their Blackberrys for BBM. Ignoring the fact that RIM cannot ride on this singular principle as a consumer draw, they did make the right step in making BBM nice. Stickies is another BBM, in that it is not the intended use of the product, but is a huge boon to users.

How do you fix it? Group chat and autofill. Group chat may take up more room, but it doesn’t need to. What you need is to keep the one-line simplicity of it, but allow for a full-fledged pop out window for chat.  I notice producers incessantly click up in their chat histories to find a name they used earlier. This is the second decade of the 21st century. There should be autocomplete, with full names in brackets next to the suggestion of the name a person begins to type. These two simple fixes wouldn’t bog down workflow, because if you work in news, you either have time to chat or you don’t. What I do know is that those who don’t really need to get answers quick, and being able to leave a chat window open away from iNews or select a user quickly from a list would prove to be a great time-saver.

Okay, back to the app. Stickies integration need not be robust, but if included, would allow messages to be received and sent from the device. This would be an alert window, or a dedicated one-line space as users are already familiar to.

Buttons aside, let’s get into the basic use of the application, because right now, the rundown seems no different than the solution provided by Avid to access iNews via Safari. When in script mode, the user can tap a story to bring it up half screen or full screen (adjustable in the settings).

Half-screen Script Mode.In half screen mode, it will be highlighted in a specific colour in the rundown. Tapping the text twice would enable changes to be made with the tablet keyboard, and would be uploaded during the next refresh cycle, or automatically by hitting the manual refresh button. The text can also be locked when a story is brought up. This lock button (located above each story, top right) would be local, meaning strictly for the device. This is simply to prevent accidental changes affecting the entire lineup. There will also be a close story button next to the lock button, and it does exactly what you think.

The movement options available in half-screen Script Mode. New button options: Lock and Close story.When the script is up, moving up and down in the script window will move up and down the script. A swipe to the left or right (a movement similar to ebook applications) will take you from item to item. In script mode, only items with script will be visible (meaning production pages won’t show). In half screen script view, moving between items will also move the highlight up and down the rundown, letting you see where you are in relation to it. The key is to make moving between items for the host to be effortless and foolproof.

While I’m being this ambitious, here’s a neat possible idea: Have a teleprompter mode. This is where you can get creative with a tablet device. Using the front facing camera, if hosts wish to practice reading their script as it scrolls through (at controllable speeds), they can do so and record it. They can watch back these videos instantly to see read performance.

Production Mode

Half-screen Production Mode. Similar movement options shown, as well as a new button option: Create Annotation.Production mode has the same button options as script mode, except in the settings. There will be changes to the visuals/font options for the annotation elements (colour, font style, location of the annotations in relation to the script). These annotations are the key difference between script mode and production mode. In the actual rundown, there is an annotation “box” that can be appended to every item. This is to take the place of note-taking for director’s on their script. This mode is local and not uploaded, so it stays on the tablet, under the person’s user profile. I often think of it as a replacement to that big red Sharpie that a director I know uses to write on top of scripts.

Half-screen Production Mode with annotations box.Ideally, the rundown would be fuller in production mode, showing every item and related elements. When the user  presses an item, the same half screen or full screen view will be available and the same swipe actions will bring about the same changes. The difference is that both the script and prod. notes will be visible, further dividing the screen. This divider should be movable. The annotations box will default in half screen view to top right quadrant. So bear with me, in half screen view: top left (but really entire top half) is the rundown, top right is annotation box for the selected item, bottom left is prod. notes and bottom right is script.

Full-screen Production Mode. Note how the annotations box moves and that the top bar shows information for the selected story.I’d like to point out a few general notes here. In full screen mode, the script, naturally, takes up all of the screen. Within this mode, the left and right swiping motions still work, but there is no highlighted place in the rundown. To ensure that you know what page you are on, a line appears above the full screen script/production mode. This line would be identical to the story’s corresponding place in the rundown, with all the appropriate information.

When a story is “floated”, a term meaning no longer applicable to the lineup but maintaining its elements (basically removing it from the show), it will be highlighted differently than when a story is selected. Also, quitting the application will simply freeze it until it is reopened. This would be treated as a “showtime” device, making quickaccess to the script paramount. This means that security of the information in the lineup will naturally be up to the user, just as it is on paper and on a desktop computer.

The crux of this scenario I’ve put forth is to understand that much can be sped up and much can be saved in terms of time on a set. No longer do directors, assistant directors or lineup producers have to worry about updated scripts on paper copy. No longer do hosts need to concern themselves with production notes in scripts if they don’t want to, and also to be able to make changes on their own. This is new media and web 2.0 and all that jargony fluff that companies love—but they’re bound to love the practical aspects: saving on paper costs, copier jams, headaches and portability.

Now, there are obvious drawbacks to implementing this plan right away. You have to spend time developing it and testing it. You have to ensure that it works with an organization’s systems, as I’m sure is already done with many of them. What won’t be an issue, is adoption. An organization like mine can’t upgrade their computers and copiers all the time, so they’re certainly not going to buy iPads for the entire crew. The point is, they don’t need to. These devices are already here, in everyone’s hands, and the cost is taken completely on the consumer end. So what they need to be sold on is the price of the software, not the hardware.

However, if I may be blunt, sometimes the avoidance of adoption in an organization is worth the value of the time and money spent in inefficiency.
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